This 24-Year Old Girl Fought India's Government To Win Its People Freedom Online

24/03/2015 6:42 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Courtesy Shreya Singhal

NEW DELHI — The petition that resulted in today's landmark Supreme Court judgment that struck down section 66A of the IT Act, taking a draconian law that allowed people to be jailed for Facebook posts off India's books, is "Shreya Singhal versus Union of India".

Singhal was 21 years old when she filed the petition in 2012. She expressed her feelings in one word when HuffPost India reached out to her: "Overwhelmed".

"It has been an education for me," she says, about the journey that basically made her petition one of the most closely followed in recent times. "I still can't grasp the magnitude of this; I didn't think it would be quite this large."

The 24-year-old is in the second year of law school at Delhi University's Faculty of Law. Her petition, drafted by lawyers Ninad Laud and Ranjita Rohatgi, and argued by former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, has changed the course of freedom of speech online in India.

Read: Supreme Court Strikes Down Section 66A Of IT Act

It all started for her over a dinnertime conversation with her mother, Manali Singhal, a Supreme Court lawyer. "As it always is with lawyers, conversations invariably turn into arguments," she says, laughing.

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"I still can't grasp the magnitude of this; I didn't think it would be quite this large."

Shocked to learn about the arrest of two girls for posting (and "liking") an "offensive" status message questioning Mumbai's shutdown after the death of Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray, Singhal says she'd reached a "breaking point". The then-21 year-old prospective law student looked through the offensive post, and the legal sections the girls were booked under, and couldn't believe it.

"I realised anyone at all could get arrested," she says, recalling how a spate of such arrests took place at the time. "My mother asked me why I wasn't doing anything about it then."

So she did.

According to Singhal, within a day or two of this, she and her team of lawyers had drafted the petition and filed it in court. Both lawyers are friends with her mother. And why didn't she ask her mother to help her instead? "I didn't want this to be a family affair," she says.

The hardest thing for her has been the wait, she says. "The judgment itself came in less than a month," she says. "But the journey itself has taken two and a half years."

Read: Unconstitutional: A Timeline Of Section 66A And The Arrests Made Under It

The young law student has had plenty of time to observe the processes, which will surely help her. "I have seen the sheer amount of work that was put in to write the petition and argue it in court," she says. "The amount of research that goes into arguing the case and even writing a judgment is immense. I learnt a lot."

Support poured in from family, friends, and even strangers. "I felt like I wasn't doing it for one person who got arrested, but for everyone," she says. "In our diverse country, this is where we need our freedom the most, to express ourselves freely where there aren't six degrees of separation."

Read: Upbeat, Defiant, Happy Twitter Users Celebrate #No66A

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"This is where we need our freedom the most, to express ourselves freely where there aren't six degrees of separation."

So, what's next in store for her? "I still have a year and half of law school left," she says. "I'm leaning towards pursuing Intellectual Property Rights law for now, though I can't say what's in the future."

Even before becoming a lawyer, this young student can have the satisfaction of having fought and won a landmark case--the kind of victory most lawyers can only dream of in a lifetime.

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